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Add More Healthy Fat to Your Diet to Prevent Breast Cancer

breast cancer, diet, omega-3 fatty acids, breast cancer prevention

For the majority of women, a healthy lifestyle which includes diet, exercise, and weight control, can help significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer. A new study cements the theory that the right type of fat in the diet is a significant factor in breast cancer prevention. Researchers from the University of Guelph have found that a lifelong diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can inhibit the growth of breast cancer tumors by 30%.

"It's a significant finding," said David Ma, a professor in Guelph's Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences. "We show that lifelong exposure to omega-3s has a beneficial role in disease prevention – in this case, breast cancer prevention. What's important is that we have proven that omega-3s are the driving force and not something else."

For the study, the researchers created a mouse model genetically engineered to form certain types of mammary (breast) tumors. Mice that produced omega-3’s developed only two-thirds as many tumors and those that developed were 30% smaller as compared to the control mice. "To our knowledge, no such approach has been used previously to investigate the role of omega-3s and breast cancer,” said Ma.

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids meaning that they are necessary for health, but the body does not make them so one must ingest them through food or supplements. Foods rich in omega-3’s include fatty fish (salmon, tuna, and halibut), other seafood such as algae and krill, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts.

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The nutrients are protective against many forms of chronic disease including heart disease and arthritis due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Because omega-3’s are highly concentrated in the brain, they are important for cognitive performance and behavioral function as well. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, mood swings or depression and poor circulation.

For heart health, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish or foods rich in omega-3’s at least 2 times per week. "The fact that a food nutrient can have a significant effect on tumor development and growth is remarkable and has considerable implications in breast cancer prevention," concludes Ma.

Additionally, many experts, including those from the National Cancer Insitute, recommend a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, regular exercise and avoiding cigarettes for breast cancer prevention.

Journal Reference:
Mira B. MacLennan, Shannon E. Clarke, Kate Perez, Geoffrey A. Wood, William J. Muller, Jing X. Kang, David W.L. Ma. Mammary tumor development is directly inhibited by lifelong n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2013; 24 (1): 388 DOI: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2012.08.002

Additional Resources:
University of Maryland Medical Center
National Cancer Institute